Create a Community Strategic Plan for the whole team

Using the Community Strategy Plan

There are common challenges every team of community builders faces. Contribution to company’s goal, team members alignment, long term planning and execution with the next step already in mind, a diverse and rich community landscape to support, etc. Mine is no exception, and we tried to address, or at least mitigate, some of these challenges thanks to the Feverbee’s Community Strategic Plan.

Why the Community Strategic Plan, and how?

I’m deeply rooted in the importance of the whys, the reasons motivating our actions. In the context of a brand community program, the whys are the goals the company wants to pursue, thanks to the community tool. The complexity every community professional faces is to link those goals with dat-to-day execution. The Community Strategic Plan creates a clear connection between these two extremes. Via interconnected hops, defining the overall community strategy, tactics, expected results, resources allocation and other important elements.

The first time we worked on the plan, we followed all of its canonical key elements. The second time, we deviated slightly from the manual, focusing on the following key elements:

  • Goals: what the organization wishes to achieve from the community.
  • Objectives: what behaviors community members need to perform in order to achieve the goals.
  • Emotions: what feelings to amplify and leverage, in order to influence community members to perform desired behaviors. We expressed them using the perspective of user stories. For example “I’m proud of giving back to my local ecosystem thanks to technologies“. Or “I am motivated to offer compelling content to my members to increase hands-on learning at different levels“.
  • Tactics: the specific projects the team will execute to amplify these emotions. We didn’t go too deep into defining action steps, because we made the plan in the context of an entire team. Once a person, or sub team, starts working on a specific tactic, they will also have the freedom, and responsibility, to define detailed steps.

The Community Strategic Plan and the existing team culture

In Google, we use OKRs. For the Community Strategic Plan to be truly adopted and followed, and not to be forgotten after the initial enthusiasm, we had to find a way to insert it into the “existing team flow”. Luckily, it’s wasn’t that difficult, as a mapping between the Community Strategic Plan and the OKR framework is pretty straightforward. From the OKR angle:

  • Objectives express goals and intents
  • Key Results express measurable milestones which, if achieved, will advance objective(s) in a useful manner.

So, considering the key elements of the Community Strategic Plan aforementioned:

  • A goal provide an high-level categorization of a group of Objectives in the OKR
  • An objective maps with an Objective in the OKR
  • A tactic maps to a Key Result in the OKR

Bonding the Community Strategy Plan with team OKRs was the way to keep team members focused on the tactics. In general, I strongly encourage to adapt and connect the Community Strategic Plan to the existing team habits. For several teams, adopting the plan is already an important mindset shift, so it should not be weighed down by further changes to team routines.

Work on the Community Strategic Plan in an remote team setup

Honestly, it was quite a complex exercise to work on the Community Strategy Plan in a remote team setup. Because of the many consequent steps, the many “diverge-converge-decide” phases, the non trivial amount of time, focus and effort required to formalize the entire plan.

I started making each team member aware of what is a Community Strategy Plan, and the potential advantages in adopting this new framework in the team. Thanks to previous retrospectives about the work we did together, I had enough material to support the proposal.

Then, with a sub group of experienced community builders, we set goals, objectives and emotions. We iterated twice on them, to be sure we developed quite extensively the company goals, without leaving anything behind. The experience of the sub group allowed to focus on the important elements, to interpret goals considering also “historical context”, and to identify emotions, thanks to their deep knowledge of community members.

Finally, we shared the pre-work done with the whole team, and leveraged everyone’s contribution for a tactics brainstorming. Fresh-air and alternative points of views, provided by newer team members, were really useful. We then prioritized tactics and picked up the top ones, completing the last element of the Community Strategic Plan.

Challenges and opportunities ahead

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, strategic thinking and purse team alignment while working with the full spectrum of communities is one of the core reasons we created our Community Strategy Plan. With the plan now in place, I asked every team member to constantly check if the ways they’re spending their time with communities resonate with one or more priority tactics. If yes, đź‘Ť. If not, or they may need to refocus their effort, or we may need to improve and adapt the plan, as no tool is the perfect tool, especially over time.

Speaking about time, the more you move closer to execution (from company goals down to tactics), the quicker is the “speed of adaptation“. It means goals are here to stay for the long period (ideally), while tactics may change quickly. When we prioritized tactics, we had to left behind some interesting ones, or others that needed for some pre-condition to be true, in order to become feasible. I’m quite sure, in the future, we’ll include some of those tactics into the official Community Strategic Plan.

Measurement is another area of untapped opportunities: in fact, for some of the priority tactics, we hadn’t a precise idea on how to measure the impact, or even the progress. We had a feeling it should be possible, and that was enough to commit to do it later. It’s not a “postpone-to-forget” attempt, but it could become without the right discipline. So I foresee lot of data-oriented learnings we’ll acquire executing those tactics.

(Credits to Unsplash for the post image)

How to Be an Effective Manager of a Community Builders Team

(This post was originally published on CMX Hub blog, I’m adding it to my blog to keep everything in order)

A lot of community builders are working as a one (wo)man band, doing everything on their own to support their beloved communities. Far less common is the situation where you have a team of community builders working together on the same community program. As a manager of a team like this, how does one build, sustain, and grow it?

Luckily, a lot of the existing culture surrounding team management can be applied with success. I like to think about Tuckman’s stages of group development as a good starting point. It describes the inevitable phases in order for a team to grow, face up to their challenges, find solutions, and deliver results. What are specific elements and suggestions to consider, within the frame of a community builder’s team?

Phase 1: Form

In this phase, a new team is created. Its members join for the first time, start to think about the common project, and the reasons to work together. They also begin to get to know each other, both professionally and personally. There are three essential key responsibilities for the team manager: establish the vision, hire team members, and connect them.

No one more than the team manager should know the reason for such team to exist, why the company needs the community. And this reason should drive the hiring process too: there are plenty of resources on how to hire good community managers and builders, but just the right skills are not enough. It’s important to identify someone who shares the same vision and is motivated by the same whys. Initially, that vision will be a strong first element of commonality among team members. Subsequently, it will help everyone to have a clear understanding of their part in the journey. Over the long period, this alignment will provide a major boost to members’ spirit, productivity, and happiness.

Once there is a common goal among team members, another manager’s core responsibilities during the Form phase is to shift the newly formed group mindset from “me” to “us,” increasing as much as possible the many:many relationships inside the team. Think, for example, about engaging members in some type of collaborative effort, so they can motivate one another and hold one another accountable. When the shift happens, the team unleashes its real potential, obtaining results that are more than the mere sum of people’s individual contributions.

Phase 2: Storm

Once team members start to collaborate with each other, sooner or later, the vast majority of teams will go through a phase of conflicts, where the focus is on the differences among members, more than on what unites them. On failures, more than on successes. On conflicts, more than on collaborations.

To successfully deal with this stage, the manager should address areas of uncertainty and foster collaborative discussions with positive outcomes among team members, to contrast that “conflict element.”

Among those areas, two of the most important are the definition of success and the community strategy. Connected with the aforementioned team vision, identifying what success for the community looks like, and the tangible returns the community should provide, helps the group to understand how the community can serve the company, and concentrates energy and resources in one common direction

Once the definition of success is known, the manager should ensure the team creates a proper strategy to pursue it. Tools like the community strategy canvas can help to lay down a clear path to follow while leaving space, at the same time, for diverse set of contributions, added values, and creativity every team member can bring into play. The canvas should be reviewed time to time by the team, to adapt to changing factors and to tackle new challenges in pursuing success.

Another common source of conflicts in a team of community builders, is when there are divergences on the appropriate behaviors community members should have. To avoid countless discussions, the manager can help the team to find and articulate a community tone. Once decided upon, these guidelines can both reduce conflicts inside the community and, for the ones that still happen, team members can find an easier way to solve them by following the tone.

Phase 3: Norm

This phase is where team members really cooperate together, all working toward the common goal, knowing and accepting each other. Despite lot of positive elements, a good manager knows the major risk of this phase lies in the inability of the team to challenge the status quo. The community is a living organism, always changing; a team that blindly sticks to outdated models to support itself could potentially represent a problem.

Investing in member training can prevent that. Participate in conferences on community management, organize recurring lectures or brown bag sessions about books or the latest articles on the matter, encourage folks to actively participate in a community of community builders, and much more. Whatever is useful to broaden views and expertise of the team and to bring fresh new ideas, you should be doing it.

Once these new ideas are found, it’s important to provide team members a protected space to test them. Especially for mature and big communities, the fear of a small spark, generated by an error of a community builder, becoming a wildfire damaging the community with a negative impact for the company, can prevent the team from introducing changes. So, the team manager should first set a culture where small and controlled failures are not only tolerated, but there is acknowledgement they are needed to improve, and then allocate resources to perform tests in a protected environment. For example running focus groups, or creating a special group of early adopters inside the community, etc.

Bringing an external point of view can also help: someone outside of the team could easily identify areas of improvements for the community, without being “emotionally connect and involved” with the rest of the team members, and the community itself. Once spotted, the manager should work to create a plan to solve these issues, and follow up on its execution.

Phase 4: Perform

In this phase, the team performs at its peak. Autonomously, well connected with company’s goals, and with very little guidance needed. Thanks to that, the manager can collect the most substantial fruits of their labor and has more time availability. How can one reuse both of them wisely?

For example, one way would be trying to grow visibility internally into the company and to obtain more resources, in the form of a budget increase, more team members, and so on. Even if reports that show connections between the community outcomes and the company needs have to be available since the first day of the community, in this phase there is more time to increase their accuracy, deepen the analysis, extend the long-term contribution measurement. All of this should be done with one main goal: show how indispensable the community is for the company. And the team manager has to be the spokesperson of this bond, more in this phase than ever, to guarantee a bright and long-term future for their team.

Alternatively, the manager can start looking for new company challenges to address, connected either with the community-related skills team members possess, or with new needs the community can solve for the company. Has the community, initially born to provide scalable support, proven to be a good source of ideas and product feedback? What about integrating it in the creation process for new products, or new versions of them? Has the community, born to mobilize a group of people toward a cause, proven to be a source of inspiring stories and loyal customers? What about morphing it in a place for brand ambassador? Creativity is the limit.

Just a final thought to recap: every team is like a small community, and it changes over time. While the main manager’s duty always remains to connect it with the rest of the company one side, and to serve it and allow team members to thrive on the other side, knowing the most typical phases of a team can allow the manager to be more prepared, and more effective, in fulfilling their duty.

(This post was originally published on CMX Hub blog, I’m adding it to my blog to keep everything in order)

Conferences for Community Managers in 2019

Chairs in a conference room

As per every job, it’s important to be part of a network of like minded and professionals with similar skills. What are the conferences for community managers, leaders and builders worthwhile attending in 2019?

** Note: this is a work-in-progress post, with new events added over time. Last update June 3rd **

Confirmed events

FOSDEM Community DevRoomFebruary 3, Brussels, Belgium: Every year, thousands of developers of free and open source software from all over the world gather at the event in Brussels. This year I was part of the Program Committee ;)

DevRelCon Tokyo, March 9, Tokyo, Japan: a conference about developer relations, developer experience, developer community, APIs and developer marketing. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

DevRelCon San Francisco, June 6 and 7, San Francisco, California: This is THE annual San Francisco Bay area conference for Developer Relations and Developer Experience practioners! This is the conference where you can meet and learn from your community of dev advocates, community managers, team managers, dev marketers, and people in many roles that share DevRel and DX responsibilities in support, docs, engineering, product, partner engineering, BD, marketing, customer success, and more. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

Swarm Conference, August 20-21, Sydney, Australia: Founded in 2011, Australia’s flagship community management conference connects local builders, thinkers, managers and makers with top international talent for two days of learning, collaboration, inspiration and outcomes.

CMX Summit, September 5-6, Redwood City, California: Over 2 days, CMX Summit seeks to expand discussions, techniques, and tactics applied to community building for businesses and support communities and their CEOs, CMOs, and builders at scale. (That’s you!) You’ll gain insights from the best in the industry and make lifelong friends

TheCR Connect, September 23-25, Boston, MA: TheCR Connect is exclusively for community practitioners – those engaged in the development, implementation, management, and measurement of community initiatives. You might be a community manager for a 5,000 person internal community, the community specialist at a start-up, or the director of community for a Fortune 500 brand. TheCR Connect is a vendor-free event to ensure that open conversations can happen between community practitioners.

DevRelCon London, December 10-11, London, United Kingdom: The fifth edition of DevRelCon London focuses on how developer relations, developer marketing, community management, and developer experience can learn from each other and from other disciplines. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

Are you Italian?

If you’re a community manager, living in Italy, join the Italian Community Managers group, as we organize several event across the year, included 1 main conferences in Milan on November 15th, to discuss about these topics.

Other resources

There is also a list of upcoming DevRel-related events maintained by Mary, with big conferences and smaller meetups. And DevRel often crosses with community management, you know ;)

Any other important occasion missing in this list?

The Community Canvas for GDG

GDG Community Canvas

When a community movement is worldwide spread, like Google Developers Group is, maintain a good balance between a common identity and local differences is essential keep the “sense of belonging” among the chapter leads, while leaving them the freedom to be successful interpreting the local context. But what defines that common identity? I created a GDG Community Canvas to explore and understand that.

The Community Canvas by Fabian PfortmĂĽller is, for a community, what the Business Model Canvas is for a company. While the latter is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances (Wikipedia), the former is a framework to describe the underlying structure of a community, focussed on 3 main section: Identity, Experience and Structure. More info in the Community Canvas site, alongside with very useful guidebooks to understand each section and questions to drive its creation.

The process

Similar to the Community Commitment Curve exercise, I’ve asked to 70+ GDG leads to create their own Community Canvas, to check if a common picture about what a GDG is would have emerged and, if yes, what it would have been. In short: yes, there is one, and it’s very well defined!

We did the exercise during the annual community summits and, because defining the whole canvas could be overwhelming, we used a short version of it, called the Community Canvas MVC (Minimum Viable Community), still by Fabian, and working only on the “Identity” part, the most useful to provide an answer to my assumption.

The benefits of running such exercise in person with the community leads were multiple: first, it was an introspective journey they took, together, to better understand the reasons they do what they do. Gather around the same table younger and more experienced leads, to share and reflect about one passion that connected them all (they were there because they all run a GDG), fostered a stronger Sense of Community. Finally, it wasn’t Google telling them what a GDGs should be, they told each other, and based on their experiences.

We used simple design thinking techniques to co-create the GDG Community Canvas: first, we invited the leads to reflect about one of the element of the identity section, individually. Then, in group of four, they shared their learnings and discussed. Finally, they wrote down the main points on a template I provided them, to group all the thoughts emerged. We iterated for each of the identity section element: purpose, audience, values, goals. Finally, I went thru the findings, doing a little bit of summarizing. The whole exercise, in total, took a couple of hours.

The result

The follow maps describe what a Google Developer Group should be, and I pretty much agree with it.

Purpose: GDGs exist because they are local platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and learning of tech knowledge, expertise and ideas, for everyone and without discrimination. They create a space to socialise and get together with likeminded people interested in tech, enabling personal and career growth. They also aim to increase diversity in tech, creating a welcoming and safe environment. All with fun.

Audience: GDGs are for tech professionals with different level of expertise, interested in learning and sharing about Google technologies, and in giving back to the community. They’re also open to students, tech entrepreneurs and, in general, to all the people working with developers and / or with a technical background or passion about technologies. They host audiences of different ages and people close in terms of geographic location. They also welcome people interested in diversity and inclusion topics in the tech ecosystem.

Values: the most recurring values of GDG communities are about a social, technological and cultural inclusiveness, a continuous learning attitude of the members paired with a love for new technologies and a culture of sharing, a desire for personal growth, all enclosed in mutual respect and support. Diversity is present in many dimensions, from members background to knowledge level, including reasons to be part of the community to technologies, all to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone.
I particularly liked one of the point made: “learn, earn, serve”.

Goals: most common success factors for GDGs are the positive feedback from satisfied community members about the activity organized, the ability to share in an efficient and effective way knowledge and positive values of the community, being recognized as a valuable community and the reference point for Google technologies in the local ecosystem. Also the “creation factor” was mentioned: in term of new projects and ideas, community contribution to technologies: bugs, pull requests, feedback, etc. Success is also defined by more diversity in the event attendees, in term of gender and cultural background.
One group mentioned the increase of Community ROI, seen as Return of Interest, in term of more attendees to the events, more retention among attendees and more bonding capital among members.

Here the detailed results.

Next steps

It would be great to run the GDG Community Canvas exercise across different cultures, as my cohort was mostly from Europe. I suspect main points will be the same, with some interesting secondary differences. In addition, I left to the leads the pleasure of filling the other two sections (Experience and Structure) once home, with the rest of their community core groups, but it would have been interesting to go thru the whole canvas together. Nevertheless, several told me they’ve done, and it was very useful to better shape and share their idea of community and align their minds.

And you, GDG member or lead reading this article, do you find yourself and your community in this canvas? Please let me know, as I’m interested in every single feedback!

Strategies to increase community members involvement, ICM Summit

A recurring problem of every community manager is to keep community members involved with the community. During this talk I spoke about the Community Commitment Curve, a tool to identify a path of optimal engagement, composed by small progressive requests, helping members to be more and more active within the community. They were also concrete examples of the Curve, for online and offline communities.

(Talk in Italian)

(I

(Italian Community Managers Summit Rome, 10 November 2018)

The Community Commitment Curve for in-person communities

Community Commitment Curve

The Community Commitment Curve offers members a clear and progressive engagement journey in the community, from a total stranger position to a community organizer role (or other key roles). The concept is not new to community professionals, and it was described for the first time in 2012 by Douglas Atkin. If you want to know more, Carrie Melissa wrote a good article on it. For the Italian audience listening, Caterina Manzi from AirBnb also mentioned it during a talk at the Italian Community Managers Summit in 2018. It was interesting to see, compared to the original curve carved by Douglas, how much it has been improved and redefined over time.

Why the community commitment curve works

The whole community commitment curve idea is based on the fact that personal investment is an important contributor for the development of the Sense of Community, both for the “membership” and for the “shared emotional connection” aspects of it. People who donate more time and energy to an association will be more emotionally involved (remember, community is all about emotions). This social evidence opposes to what a newcomer can often find in a community environment: warm and welcoming people, useful content, but not clear call to action on how to contribute back to the community. It is not uncommon the only communicated message at in-person community events is “Help us to organize the next event”: clearly an overwhelming call for a person that just joined, or young members of the group.

The community commitment curve defines progressive, balanced asks community managers can make to their members, to keep them engaged and proactive, through a commitment journey composed by 4 main phases: discover, onboard, engage, lead.

Every ask is built on top of previous asks. And every task has an effort connected to its accomplishment. Of course, “invite / bring people at the event (engaging, effort 1)” requires, in absolute terms, an effort way bigger than “register for a community event (discovering, effort 2)”, but once a member is at the beginning of the engaging phase and has already actively advocated for the community, bring people at an event is a very natural follow-up step, and the personal perception of its effort is very low. This is the very core of the curve: makes “everything perceived easy” for member engaged with the community, while giving community managers a reproducible way to achieve this.
And this is also the reason effort “resets” at every phase.

The focus of a Community Commitment Curve

Every community is unique in its own way but, luckily, an initial community commitment curve can be drawn for communities sharing similar model and goals. Then it can be customized with unique aspects and rituals of the specific group. Giving my current job, supporting in-person dev communities interested in Google technologies across Europe, my focus was to find a curve for this kind of communities. And I did not alone, but asking to my Italian GDG community leaders to co-create, collectively, the curve, during the annual event we held with them.

Community Commitment Curve for in-person (offline) communities

Here a Community Commitment Curve for an in-person community, with the main objective to organize physical meetups and events around tech topics. The effort is on a scale from 1 to 3, where 1 is a very and 3 is the hardest.

Community Commitment Curve for in-person (offline) communities

The picture doesn’t have the best readability, so a spreadsheet with all the steps and the list also follows.

Discovering

  • Visit the community website landing page / social channel (effort 1)
  • Like a post on the community social channel (effort 1)
  • Search for the next community event (effort 1)
  • Send an info request about the community (effort 2)
  • Comment on community social channel or tag the community (effort 2)
  • Subscribe to the community social channel providing passive engagement, like Facebook, Twitter, etc (effort 2)
  • Register to a community event (effort 2)
  • Attend a community event for the first time (effort 3)

Onboarding

  • Stay and interact at the end of the event (free chats, aperitif, networking moment, etc, but without leaving the venue) (effort 1)
  • Leave feeback on a community event attended for the first time
  • Subscribe to the community channel providing active notifications to stay updated on future events and community news (Meetup.com, maling list, IM group chat, etc) (effort 1)
  • Collect community identity symbols (t-shirts, pins, stickers etc) (effort 1)
  • Spontaneous social media activity during the event about it (live tweet, sharing slides and thoughts etc) (effort 2)
  • Provide a feedback about the attended event (effort 2)
  • Help with the event logistics by chance (moving chair before / after the event, clean-up tables and venue, etc) (effort 2)
  • “Wear” community identity symbols (attach a stickers, wear a tshirt, etc) (effort 2)
  • Take active part to online discussion on community social channel after the event (effort 2)
  • Attend a community event for the second/third time (effort 3)
  • Propose topics for next community events (effort 3)
  • Attend an in-person social event after the meeting (dinner, free chats, etc, and outside of the venue) (effort 3)

Engaging

  • Refer the community / next events to peers (effort 1)
  • Invite / bring additional people during events (effort 1)
  • Suggest / connect with a potential speaker (effort 1)
  • Suggest / connect with a potential sponsor (effort 1)
  • Be a good source feedback (events execution, onboarding experience, social presence, image of the community during the events, etc) (effort 2)
  • Proactively offer help for event duties (attendees check-in, venue setup and tear down, move mics for questions, etc) (effort 2)
  • Consistently produce event follow-up (blogpost, recap, friction logs, etc) (effort 2)
  • Propose a talk for an event (effort 2)
  • Active contribution to a community side project (code projects, etc) (effort 2)
  • Help representing the community during broader events (booth at conferences, fairs, etc) (effort 3)
  • Promote events on social / real life (effort 3)
  • Curate the full social presence during events (effort 3)
  • Attend community events on regular basis (effort 3)
  • Proactive help with event logistic (venue setting, gadget distribution, speaker support etc) (effort 3)
  • Speak during an event (effort 3)
  • Introduce the community at the beginning of the event (effort 3)
  • Arrive at the events earlier to help with logistic (shop for the food for the networking part, visit and check the venue days before the event, etc) (effort 3)
  • Attend one or more core-org team meetings (effort 3)

Leading

  • Constantly finding speakers for events (effort 1)
  • Scout for new venues and make all the arrangements needed to run even there (effort 1)
  • Take care of the with audio / video task (effort 1)
  • Welcome speakers before the even and be their point of contact (effort 1)
  • Present the community to other community events (effort 2)
  • Help community in tasks required to sustain itself (site, analysis etc) (effort 2)
  • Lead the community social strategy (effort 2)
  • Propose and execute community improvement actions (greet new members, implement new features etc) (effort 2)
  • Be responsible for the full organization of one or more events (effort 2)
  • Be the point of contact between the community and the main sponsors (effort 2)
  • Co-define the community strategy and plans (effort 2)
  • Take care of transition from Onboarding to Engaging for new potential community leaders (effort 2)
  • Accept the co-organizer role (effort 3)
  • Identify and onboard new co-organizers (effort 3)
  • Lead the community governance in the co-organizers group (effort 3)
  • Step-up as the main community organizer (effort 3)

Next steps

The curve lacks with Carrie Melissa defined as emotional involvement, another parameter to consider together with the effort, to make the transitions between tasks even smoother. And no curve is perfect, of course, so I’ll integrate additional feedback over time. What’s yours? Do you think some tasks is missing? Please let me know and, in the meantime, feel free to use the Curve for your communities!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash